2013 Wrap Up: Significant SCOTUS Cases

Wondering what the key cases were in 2013? Here’s my list, for criminal lawyers practicing in state courts. Want more information? All of the cases are summarized in greater detail in my free, online Criminal Case Compendium.


Kansas v. Cheever, 571 U.S. __ (Dec. 11, 2013). The Fifth Amendment does not prohibit the government from introducing evidence from a court-ordered mental evaluation of a criminal defendant to rebut that defendant’s presentation of expert testimony in support of a defense of voluntary intoxication.

Salinas v. Texas, 570 U.S. __ (June 17, 2013). Use at trial of the defendant’s silence during a non-custodial interview did not violate the Fifth Amendment. The Court took the case to resolve a lower court split over whether the prosecution may use a defendant’s assertion of the privilege against self-incrimination during a non-custodial police interview as part of its case in chief. In a 5-to-4 decision, the Court held that the defendant’s Fifth Amendment claim failed. Justice Alito, joined by the Chief Justice and Justice Kennedy, found it unnecessary to reach the primary issue, concluding instead that the defendant’s claim failed because he did not expressly invoke the privilege in response to the officer’s question and no exception applied to excuse his failure to invoke the privilege. Justice Thomas filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, to which Justice Scalia joined. In Thomas’s view the defendant’s claim would fail even if he had invoked the privilege because the prosecutor’s comments regarding his pre-custodial silence did not compel him to give self-incriminating testimony.

Nevada v. Jackson, 569 U.S. __ (June 3, 2013). The Court reversed the Ninth Circuit, which had held that the defendant, who was convicted of rape and other crimes, was entitled to federal habeas relief because the Nevada Supreme Court unreasonably applied clearly established Supreme Court precedent regarding a criminal defendant’s constitutional right to present a defense. The Court noted that it “has never held that the Confrontation Clause entitles a criminal defendant to introduce extrinsic evidence for impeachment purposes” (emphasis in original).

Arrest Search and Investigation

Maryland v. King, 569 U.S. __ (June 3, 2013). The defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights were not violated by the taking of a DNA cheek swab as part of booking procedures.

Florida v. Jardines, 569 U.S. __ (Mar. 26, 2013). Using a drug-sniffing dog on a homeowner’s porch to investigate the contents of the home is a “search” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. The Court held:

The officers were gathering information in an area belonging to [the defendant] and immediately surrounding his house—in the curtilage of the house, which we have held enjoys protection as part of the home itself. And they gathered that information by physically entering and occupying the area to engage in conduct not explicitly or implicitly permitted by the homeowner.

Slip Op. at pp. 3-4.

Florida v. Harris, 568 U.S. __ (Feb. 19, 2013). Concluding that a dog sniff “was up to snuff,” the Court reversed the Florida Supreme Court and held that the dog sniff in this case provided probable cause to search a vehicle. The Court rejected the holding of the Florida Supreme Court which would have required the prosecution to present, in every case, an exhaustive set of records, including a log of the dog’s performance in the field, to establish the dog’s reliability. The Court found this “demand inconsistent with the ‘flexible, common-sense standard’ of probable cause.

Missouri v. McNeely, 569 U.S. __ (April 17, 2013). The Court held that in drunk driving investigations, the natural dissipation of alcohol in the bloodstream does not constitute an exigency in every case sufficient to justify conducting a blood test without a warrant.

Bailey v. United States, 568 U.S. __ (Feb. 19, 2013). Michigan v. Summers, 452 U.S. 692 (1981) (officers executing a search warrant may detain occupants on the premises while the search is conducted), does not justify the detention of occupants beyond the immediate vicinity of the premises covered by a search warrant. The Court declined to precisely define the term “immediate vicinity,” leaving it to the lower courts to make this determination based on “the lawful limits of the premises, whether the occupant was within the line of sight of his dwelling, the ease of reentry from the occupant’s location, and other relevant factors.”

Criminal Procedure

Alleyne v. United States, 570 U.S. __ (June 17, 2013). The Court overruled Harris v. United States, 536 U.S. 545 (2002), and held that any fact that increases a mandatory minimum sentence must be submitted to the jury.

Evans v. Michigan, 568 U.S. __ (Feb. 20, 2013). When the trial court enters a directed verdict of acquittal based on a mistake of law the erroneous acquittal constitutes an acquittal for double jeopardy purposes barring further prosecution.

Peugh v. United States, 569 U.S. __ (June 10, 2013). The Court held that retroactive application of amended Federal Sentencing Guidelines to the defendant’s convictions violated the Ex Post Facto Clause.

Chaidez v. United States, 568 U.S. __ (Feb. 20, 2013). Padilla v. Kentucky, 559 U. S. ___ (2010) (criminal defense attorneys must inform non-citizen clients of the risks of deportation arising from guilty pleas), does not apply retroactively to cases that became final before Padilla was decided.

Smith v. United States, 568 U.S. __ (Jan. 9, 2013). In a case involving federal drug and RICO conspiracy charges the Court held that allocating to the defendant the burden of proving withdrawal from the conspiracy does not violate the Due Process Clause.

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